Learning to Love Music Through Movement

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.

As Musician-in-Residence Week unfolds at The Children’s School, our students are listening happily to bluegrass, jazz, pop and classical compositions and getting a hands-on introduction to the banjo, cello, violin, flute, guitar and drums. It’s a thrill and an inspiration for the children to interact with professional musicians and ask them questions about their art.

While these special guests spark the children’s enthusiasm for live performances, our music program deepens their understanding of, and ear for, melody and rhythm. Our teachers have been incorporating techniques developed by Émile Jacques-Dalcroze in the early 1900’s. Dalcroze was a contemporary of Maria Montessori and, like her, was an inventor of innovative pedagogical techniques.

As a professor of harmony at the Conservatory of Music in Geneva, Dalcroze noticed that even his advanced students had trouble with meter, tempo and dynamics when playing together, and that innate rhythmic ability was as rare as perfect pitch. He started inventing ear-training games to help his students become more sensitive to subtle shifts in the music. During these games, he noticed his students would unconsciously sway, tap their feet, and wave their fingers, and he realized that they were using their bodies, not just the abstract notations of the written score, to follow and inhabit the music.

Building on his intuition that the human body is our first instrument, Dalcroze encouraged his students to respond instinctively to rhythm with spontaneous movements. Finding he could sharpen students’ perception of rhythm and tempo through kinesthetic training, he devised a form of musical training through movements called “eurythmics.”

Dalcroze’s hunch that music activates and stimulates the brain regions that control our kinesthetic sense and muscle coordination has since been borne out in modern neurological research. In fact, musical training has been found to enhance a surprising number of cognitive functions in the brain. A 2015 longitudinal study at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory concluded that students with a year of music training at school showed improved verbal memory, speech-in-noise perception, and phonological skills, all of which correlate with language skills.

In music lessons at TCS, the children play movement games that get the ear, mind and body working together, helping them hear subtle changes in the music and react to them quickly and confidently. They use movement for expressive storytelling, with certain gestures representing specific characters. By practicing gross motor skills like hopping and skipping in time with music, they prepare to develop the fine motor skills needed to play an instrument or sing with skill and control.

Even if you don’t play an instrument yourself, take opportunities as a family to sing, dance, play air guitar and do silly walks to music! There are few activities as fun as dancing and singing around the house together. Even a philosopher as sober as Plato believed that music, above all the other arts, brings “charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”